Waves Arising, Waves Falling, Crossing to the Other Shore

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I have heard that there is just one photon, one photon field without beginning or end, as it were, but that this one photon expresses and manifests local conditions, the contingent flow of energy, as a given photon in time and space, that is, as all photons throughout time and space. . .

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In fact perhaps the same can be said of all particles, really, of everything. Like how there is only one ocean, but waves express local conditions that rise and fall.

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Last week my 7 year-old grandson asked me if I heard Prince died. Yes. How did he know? His mom told him. Did he know about Prince and his music? He knew the song Purple Rain. He liked the song, although at first he thought it was purple raisin. He was somber, reflective.

Two people I have known for many years also died last week, just two days apart. Cancer. Not close friends or family, but colleagues I have known and worked with and respected. Both lovely, intelligent, accomplished, dedicated physician scientists.

Ultimately liberation from constraints, the realm of measurement and the senses, is the next wave.

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Gate gate paragate parasamgate boddhisvaha.

Riding the waves to the other shore.

Long Week

This has been a pretty long and kind of dramatic week in my personal and professional life. Challenges I hope adequately met.

Details not important. Stuff, you know.

But, whatever I did well or poorly, however I maintained my center, or didn’t, reflects my practice. Because it reflects my life, because it is my life.

What else is there? (See last post! Everything and nothing!)

I do think meditation helps. For me, having the touchstone of  a formal practice helps.

Having a loving family and friends helps too.

Thanks, much love to all.

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The Only Thing We Have To Fear; Happy Thanksgiving

I haven’t written on this website for a while for several reasons. Mostly I have been writing a fantasy novel for 8-11 year olds (or thereabouts) where themes that I have discussed in this blog are the subtext, but without any Buddhist, Zen or really scientific jargon. That’s the point of fiction; you explore new things in a way that is free and open, using intuition and imagination.

Also, I went to do research and visit friends and family in Paris.

Then a month later of course the horror of ISIL in Paris happened.

That was sad and disgusting and tragic, but what really got to me was the irrational reaction of so many people here in the USA (and somewhat elsewhere, of course): paranoia, xenophobia, racism, perverted values, willingness to destroy innocent lives; the wholesale and obvious caving in to the whims of evil deeds perpetrated by a handful of people.

I don’t usually discuss current events in this blog. The ethical dimensions of “no separation,” the teachings of Buddhism about compassion that I have discussed, say it all. Don’t get sucked in by greed and anger and you will probably get it right most of the time.

Fear is greed. Now, I am not talking about the rapid heart beat and even the involuntary jumping and screaming that might occur if you are surprised watching a suspenseful film, when an earthquake happens, or if you are indeed attacked by nefarious forces including bad guys (or a leopard). These reactions are pretty hard wired; yes, it may be that with deep enough enlightenment you can transcend these reactions, but they do serve an evolutionary purpose (that leopard).

And I am not talking about even more prolonged, perfectly legitimate reactions and concerns that can degrade into fear. You are concerned if someone dear to you is sick. It needn’t be that you are afraid for that person, you just would like them not to suffer. You miss a close friend when she dies. It needn’t become fear of death. You would rather be careful than deal with the pain of third degree burns. You aren’t afraid, it’s just that third degree burns really, really, really suck. You do not want the consequences that may occur if your drink and drive. You’d rather not die just yet, so when you are sick you dive in and you take medicine or undergo surgery or stop smoking or change your diet if it will help.

These are not really fears or actions based on fear; they are what a responsible, smart and wise person does.

Being spiritual shouldn’t mean you are dumb or uncaring. Going all Zen and avoiding “picking and choosing,” as the ancient Chan masters implored, means you don’t get attached to your view points, your desires and conditioning, it doesn’t mean you don’t jump in to save a drowning child. Just the opposite; maybe you’d rather not get wet. Maybe you are afraid to get involved, that you will fail. You do it anyway.

Maybe you are afraid. Tough. Do the right thing. That is not picking or choosing.

So, getting back to the terrorists.

If you feel one iota of fear because of the Paris attacks, you are deluded, selfish and you are a terrorist. Unless maybe if you were there and have PTSD. Yep, you are a terrorist in the same sense that you may be a Buddhist. It is your Way, what you believe in, the way of terrorizing and being terrorized. These go hand in had. Nobody terrorized, no terrorists. They lose steam quickly. Why blow yourself up if nobody goes ooh and aah?

I assume nobody reading this made the connection to the Syrian refugees that some of our politicians and it seems many of our countrymen did in the USA; that’s too over the top racist and incoherent for anybody sophisticated enough to find this website. I would think. I would hope.

I mean, the irony of during the season of Thanksgiving Americans getting self righteous about terrorists and genocide is a bit much. We built this country on murder, slavery and deceit! That is not a political statement or opinion, it is historical fact, whatever the Texas school board says.

Anyway, I had reasonable people, citizens of liberal West LA, tell me they were afraid to travel. That terrorism will get us. That Sharia law is coming to a town near you.

In 2013 about 10,000 Americans were killed by drunk drivers in motor vehicle accidents. That is almost three 9/11’s and about 80 Paris attacks. That happens here EACH YEAR. How do we know that is avoidable other than the fact that no one HAS to drive drunk? Because it used to be 25,000 killed by drunk drivers before tougher laws were instituted.

How do we know the reactions we have seen in the USA are racist? We didn’t suddenly round up white guys in pick-ups, even just right wing separatists with pick ups and fertilizer, after Timothy McVeigh bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma, killing some ten times more people than in Paris.

How do we know it is irrational? How many mass shootings in the USA have there been and we wont regulate guns? We hold that constitutionally  sacred, but we pervert the the first amendment to allow for unrestrained money in politics as free speech, and we allow lawless search and seizure because we are afraid of dying by terrorists of a certain kind.

My grandsons are more likely to be killed in school or by gangbangers, white guy mass murderers or homegrown white separatist terrorists, than Islamic terrorists.

Yet we go about our lives.

So if in your head, in your heart, even if you know better than to say it out loud because you are politically, socially and spiritually correct, you are afraid because of the Paris tragedy, don’t rationalize it. Face your delusion. You need to get centered. That fear is greed. It is poison and you make it happen.

(not you, or me, dear reader, we know better; I mean those other guys)

Fear causes pain and suffering for yourself and others.

It will kill and maim.

The terrorists are called that because it is obviously what they are after. Baiting us, edging us on. Making us terrorized. Afraid.

Don’t let terrorism win.

Don’t let your friends, neighbors, people talking at the supermarket or the gym let terrorism win. Stand against terrorism. Stand against irrational fear and loathing.

Be smart. Be strong. I am not a pacifist. Some people may need to be ushered into their next incarnation in a way that makes it that they don’t take a lot of people with them, causing undo pain and stirring up deep and abiding trouble. After all, if we don’t stop them when we can without selling out our values, we are in some way complicit.  The warrior spirit is to protect those who need protecting. Out of compassion, not fear or anger. I thought it appropriate when the Paris cops kicked down the right doors and I am only sorry the police dog was killed. OK, maybe they were a little afraid or angry. I won’t judge. I’m just saying don’t think it HAS to be out of fear and anger and selfishness.

Just like when you don’t drink and drive, you do that to take care of business. To protect yourself and others. You don’t have to think in terms of courage or cowardice.

The decision not to drink and drive does not require fear. Fear is extra.

Fear always is. Sure, in the moment of crisis there will be adrenaline flowing and resulting strong reactions. Shitting yourself, rapid heart beat, breathing shallow and fast, getting blood to the muscles, IQ dropping 20 points, are genetically encoded survival mechanisms that are reasonable and necessary. The reaction feels and looks a bit like fear, so you might be convinced you are afraid, but that is an illusion, a concept, a conceit, something extra. A phantom, a chimera. Such a reaction needn’t be fear and loathing. It is how we living organisms are built. We avoid noxious stimuli. Even single cell organisms do. And they don’t call it fear. They do what needs to be done. We needn’t mentally process that reaction and transform it into ongoing fear. We needn’t give it that name, (name the color, blind the eye) confer on it an intellectual gravitas, reify it, grant it the form and function of fear, then make subsequent decisions based on our manufactured fear, often creating self-fulfilling prophecies and a downward spiral.

We don’t let greed turn caution into a fetish. Fear and loathing is, as they say in Zen, ‘a head on a head.’ It is not needed and it always leads to more harm.

There was that story I told where they gave a hard time to Pyrrho, who taught a kind of early Buddhism in Greece that included non-attachment, when he was chased up a tree by wild dogs. They were wrong. He wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t “attached.” He had no silly notion that the teaching of non-attachment meant that dogs get to say when you had to be dog food. He just didn’t think becoming dog food was best use of his body at that time.

You know, like FDR said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” As a kid I thought that was dumb. Of course we had to fear monsters and bad guys and lightning, right?

Wrong.

So let this be a teachable moment. For ourselves our kids, our friends, the world. We wont succumb to fear. We know better. Deep in our guts, we really do.

 

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Pyrrho, Buddha, Daosim and Science

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In his book “Greek Buddha” Christopher I. Beckwith discusses Pyrrho, a philosopher who went along with Alexander the Great on his world tour of conquest in the late fourth century BCE.

It seems Pyrrho went native and studied with Buddhist masters. One story is that he made a lot of money as a court poet and then he was called to task by some wise guy, maybe some Buddhist sage. Was Pyrrho just singing for his dinner or was he for real? Pyrrho took the challenge! He went after ‘for real.’

When I say he studied with Buddhist teachers, I mean he practiced. His life was transformed. When he returned to his home island he lived his life as practice. He was beloved. He lived to keep it simple, keep it real.

We have later records of his teachings. He taught things (pragmata) are:

  1. Adiaphora: ‘without a self-identity.’
  2. Astathmeta: ‘not measurable’ (I would say without beginning or end), unstable (as in unbalanced, unsettling, pulling this way and that, per Beckwith)
  3. Anepikrita: unjudged, unfixed.

Those of us familiar with Buddhist terminology will see there is a connection with dharmas as what we perceive, and pragmata, though the latter may have some other, more ethical or philosophical, connotations. Beckwith compares these three with the very basic Buddhist teachings of the Three Characteristics:

1. Anatman: no (innate) Self (Identity) [Beckwith has as third but it seems more like #1 to me]

2. Dukkha: uneasy, unsatisfactory, unsteady

3. Anitya: impermanence, unfixed.

He suggests that Pyrrho’s terms are in effect a direct translation into Greek of the Buddhist terms.

Beckwith also points out that since Pyrrho was writing and studying and practicing Buddhism around 300 BCE, his form of Buddhism is probably closer to the true teachings of the Buddha than many of the even earliest written Buddhist texts. Of course it’s not like we have the original writings of Pyrrho either, we have later versions and descriptions, and the early Buddhist writings are based on a vibrant and robust oral tradition. But Beckwith does  have a point. Pyrrho’s philosophy is certainly based on very early Buddhist teachings as understood at least by some Buddhists who lived maybe a bit more than a century after the Buddha died. The fact that in what the Sutras call the ‘first sermon’ by the Buddha, as well as in many versions of Buddhism 101, the four “noble” truths (as I have done in earlier blogs) are used to introduce Buddhist thought, does not mean they were necessarily the original core teachings. It may be that is how it was later perceived or that it fit later understandings of the Buddha’s teaching (or agendas of later teachers and practitioners, as Beckwith suggests). Beckwith goes a lot further though, and you can read his book if you care about such things. If you are Buddhist, you may take exception to some of his theories. But to me, that makes it fun!

There is a great section in Beckwith’s book on the names Lao Tzu and Gautama being the same. That intrigues me. Clearly Zen/Chan is Daoism (or Taoism; pick your spelling!) meets Indian Buddhism. Not the later Daoism of gods and demons and alchemy and immortals, but the early Daoism of Chuang-Tzu and Lao-Tzu (author of the Dao De Ching). Sometimes I think Chan/Zen is as much a form of a Chuang-Tzu’s Daoism than it is a form of Indian Buddhism! Of course Chan and Zen tradition don’t quite see it that way. And the Chinese Chan masters certainly relished texts from India and the Buddhist kingdoms of the Silk Road like the Lankavatara and Diamond Sutras (they are really great stuff, read them if you haven’t and if you have any interest in Buddhism at all. Red Pine has done great translations).

Interestingly, Chuang-Tzu may have lived about the same time as Pyrrho. Of course they wouldn’t have met. Lao-Tzu lived earlier, it seems more about the time of Gautama Buddha (though dates are controversial for both)! One story in Daoist lore is that near the end of his life Lao-Tzu was said to have left China to travel west. Is Lao-Tzu and Gautama the same name as Beckwith suggests using a linguistic analysis?What does that imply? Very odd for someone who is Chinese to purposely go off to die far away in foreign lands. Very intriguing. Again, read Beckwith if you are interested in the argument.

Anyway, back to the core teachings, however they fit into the historical scheme of things. These core teachings are very scientific. Not only because they can be inductively arrived at by observation and confirmed by experience (the original meaning of the term “experiment”; same root word and that was on purpose), but in their essence.

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Regarding impermanence certainly no composite “thing” lasts forever.

Modern physics does not have a permanency of things as an essential, verifiable teaching. Not particles, not universes. Quite the opposite. There are neither fixed particles (atoms and subatomic particles are basically forms of energy) or a fixed time and space. I am not only talking about relativity theory, which does imply that time and space are not separate, fixed entities, but more basically. Much has been written and discussed on the physics and metaphysics (that is the interpretation of physics, not the study of ghosts and goblins) about time and space. We do not know the extent of time and space, or even if these things are really distinct entities, if the in fact exist other than as illusions of mind. Robert Lanza talks about this in his book Biocentrism, as do others, and I understand Dr. Lanza is writing another book about time, space and the ‘illusion of death.’

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Regarding the lack of innate existence we have seen particles themselves are just perturbations of energy, of the ‘quantum field.’ Modern biology and the earth sciences teaches us that evolution is contingent on the environment just as the earth and its atmosphere has been shaped by life. It is the environment that determines “fitness.” Most of the minerals on earth were made possible by the oxygen released by photosynthesis and exist nowhere else in the solar system. Neither the earth or the life on it, no individual, species, or life itself for that matter is fixed and innate, a fixed separate definable entity.

And while science is about measurement, we don’t know the extent of what can be measured. Is there an eternal set of multiverses and dimensions? Were there “big bangs going back and forward forever? Again, if time and space are illusions, what could a beginning and end possibly mean?

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As for “unstable,” that is why there is anything at all from a scientific and mathematical point of view. I’ve written before about breaking symmetry. An ideal circle encompasses all and everything perhaps, it is certainly infinitely symmetrical by definition, but to have change there can’t be perfect symmetry. I have quoted the quantum field theory text that says that we are perturbations in a field. This is related to impermanency of ‘created things’ (is the field permanent? Is it a “created thing’?) as well. If the field were stable, there would be no things, no dharmas, no pragmata. For anything to change, to come into existence and then as it must eventually not exist, if there is to be what we experience that gives rise to the thought and perception of time and space, the system by definition must be unstable. It can’t be a system with an innate unchanging stability, a concrete thingy-ness.

There is change, evolution. There is the evolution of universes, particles, atoms, minerals, solar systems, planets, sentient beings.

As for Dukkha, unease (including but not limited to ‘suffering’ as in old translations into English), that does seem to be the nature of what happens if you yearn for the safety and reassurance of permanence, which is an illusion at best.

So science is quite compatable with anatman, dukkha and anitya.

I enjoy being challenged in my view of history by Beckwith. I enjoy seeing in the practice, writings and teachings of a poet philosopher who travelled with Alexander, a bit of confirmation that these core Buddhist/proto-scientific views were very ancient and proximate and core to the ancient teachings that underpin my practice.

Not that it really matters, I guess. Reality is reality, my practice is my practice, science is science, we live and die, however you conceive of it or dress it up or whoever may have glimpsed it before. Just kind of cool.

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It’s your party, cry if you want to

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Pain for me right this moment is my acute attack of arthritis.

I can’t sleep. I have a swollen red throbbing joint. Picture stubbing your toe hard every two seconds.

There are worse pains. I have had worse pains. Like when my gut perforated some years back.

And I have had suffering. This is pain, not suffering. There’s a big difference.

I suspect a billion or two billon people right now are in worse physical pain than I am. They are in pain from hunger, thirst, all manners of trauma and injury, illness, medical procedures, exposure, or for that matter, childbirth. Hundreds of people are probably in worse pain within a few of miles from where I am sitting writing at 2:30 AM my time.

Pain, not suffering. Billions and billions are suffering. Many more are suffering than are in physical pain. They are afraid. They are lost. They have experienced some deep loss. They are overwhelmed. They are threatened.

I think suffering for me would be seeing my son or daughter or one of my grandsons in this kind of pain. I am a doctor. Parents come in with their kids who have inflammatory eye disease and almost always they are suffering more than their kids. Even if the kids are going blind, it is the parents who seem to suffer more.

Helpless, worried, not my baby. Very hard.

And yet Buddhism talks about an end to suffering. I don’t think that means not caring or not feeling. I think it means not getting overwhelmed by all of the pain and suffering. Your own, your kids’, your lovers’ your friends’, the world’s.

Unless they were conditioned to need that form of attention, your kids (and lovers, friends and yes, even the world) don’t want you to suffer because of their pain. Unless they are very deluded or very damaged (and some are, of course) or very neglected they will soon figure out that your suffering doesn’t help them very much. It probably gets in the way.

What I see in the kids (or spouses, or lovers, or friends or parents) who are sick is they want their parents (or.. fill in the blank) to be cool, calm and collected. Sure there are cultural differences. In some cultures you need to be loud and demonstrative, but that’s just style.

Whether it’s your kids or the rest of the world, they want your attention. They may need help to navigate whatever they are going through. Maybe they are scared. Perhaps they don’t want you TOO cool, at least not all the time; a bit of coddling can go a long way. Sometimes crying helps. Because, well, it hurts and they want to know you know that. They want to know that you care and will do something to help if you can.

And you will help if you can, wont you? Even strangers? And even not pleasant strangers,real people, not just imaginary needy “deserving” people somewhere out there? Sometimes? Just keep your cool and do what you can when you can? Even if it is just to let them know you are there?

Sometimes you can’t make it all better. You try. You chant, you give, you try, you do something. But samsara, the way of the world, is that shit happens. As a parent, lover, doctor, citizen of the world, I know. That’s harsh. Sometimes you have to let go. “One person, one karma,” as we used to say on the commune. That sucks. You know it does. But there it is. That’s why those of us who do a practice, do it as best we can. Because sometimes it just sucks.

The crazy and greedy few aided by our lethargy and willful ignorance will continue to foster injustice, may destroy human life on earth and create a mass extinction event, but we’ll try anyway, right? At least a little, despite our despair and weakness? Because maybe, just maybe, just in case, we aren’t as useless as we think we are?

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There are stories in Zen about some Zen master crying over a death of someone in their life. Or it could just as easily be crying over a wayward child, lost to drugs or craziness. Or a parent or spouse with Alzheimer’s. Or victims of disasters, natural or man made. Or you name it.

For example, there is a story about a former student of the 18th century Japanese Zen master Hakuin who as a girl breezed through her Zen studies, a real prodigy. When she was older some neighbor took her to task when she cried and mourned her grandchild’s death.

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But you were the prized pupil of the great Hakuin, how can you still know suffering? How can you indulge yourself with such crying and wailing and all that? They asked. And that’s how these stories go. Oh you are so enlightened, why are you crying? Why are you so attached? Isn’t it all a dream, a projection, aren’t you beyond life and death? Haven’t you reached an end to suffering?

These stories always end with the Zen master, or the grandmother former Zen prodigy saying, in effect:

“Fuck you.”

Gotta love authenticity.

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Sometimes the right authentic response to someone who is judging others for suffering and wont try to help and doesn’t care and wont even try to be cool and be kind does seem to be “fuck you.”

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I have had it said to me in that context a few times, though not always in just so many words, and I deserved it. Can be a strong and compassionate teaching.

There is an ancient Chan Buddhist text called “The Ceasing of Notions.” It is some of the oldest Buddhist writings we have the original copies of (early Tang). Among the oldest attested Buddhist teachings, way before this text, going back to Greek reports of early Buddhism when the Greek poet and philosopher (and later Buddhist convert!) Pyrrho was with Alexander the Great cruising India 300 BCE, is basically the ceasing of notions (see Beckwith’s recent book “Greek Buddha” if you are interested; I’ll try to write more about that another time).

To cease notions means don’t limit the universe by your conditioned responses, your concepts of how it is. It means be open and aware.

It can lead to compassion.

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To cease notions also means having no fixed, concrete and conceptual notions about what it is to cease notions. It certainly does not mean creating new notions about notions, like that you should not know a rock from a potato because that would be just a notion to recognize you eat one not the other. Or that  you should not care about the suffering of others because suffering is a notion and we are all one, no separation, no duality, so it doesn’t matter anyway. Or because it is all just your life. Or you do not cry when it is crying time. Or you do cry when it is time to keep it together, because of some notion about crying or not crying.

Those are some stupid notions. There’s no end to stupid notions, even about no notions!

Be cool. Be kind. There’s a lot of suffering going around. Try, because what else can you do?

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Hmm, just for a while there, there was no joint, no throbbing, no pain, just writing; it’s funny how that works.

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Dear Marc Maron and others: Don’t Judge or indulge suffering

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Michelangelo could render suffering

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And he could mope about it. He felt VERY deeply. He was very repressed I think.  Talented guy though.

In his TV show Marc Maron recently asked the question: what is the relationship between creativity need suffering? He asks it honestly and movingly. I find him honest, funny and intelligent, but sometimes kind of hard to take.

In a sense all activity, all thoughts and motivations, all movement through the world of the senses, derives from suffering, or at least from delusion, from our deep and abiding dream, from our perceptions and projections, our stories about the world and efforts to deal with our confusion, disappointment and ultimately our death. From our karma, our intentions, from our uses of our body, mouth and thought, as the chant goes. From or projections, our concepts, our beliefs. That’s samsara in the Buddhist tradition.

The ten thousand things, the ‘dharmas.’

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Activity that takes a novel approach is deemed creative.

So yes, no drama, well, then no drama.

Marc suggests the “creative person,”  someone who does something self-consciously, and perhaps even professionally, recognized in our culture as an artistic endeavor, is somehow able to profit more from his or her suffering, whereas an accountant (his example) has no outlet other than maybe suicide.

Umm, poets, writers, painters, musicians and comics, the list of suicide, self-destructive behaviors and creating much pain for self and others, really, come on Marc, how long is that list? You know better!

The creative outlet does little or nothing. It might even make things worse by indulging delusion and garnering attention, a form of positive feedback for using talent to create, or at least justify, more pain.

Being talented, smart, cleaver, to be able to craft ideas, words or sounds or objects, in ways that amuse and hold the attention of others, is hardly in and of itself a ticket to decreasing suffering and creating a better world for anybody.

It may be seductive, even special, a potentially useful power, but that doesn’t make it inherently valuable.

As for that accountant, maybe she will use her suffering to learn and grow rather than indulge it and exploit it, justifying the pain she causes herself and others as part of her “process” or her “art”! Maybe she will not just say it feeds her creativity and wallow in it.

By the way, accountants can be quite creative. Ask any rich person or corporation who relies on their accountants’ creative abilities to enrich themselves further.

I hear this all the time, how someone’s problems are more “real” their suffering is deeper or less deep,  more intense or less intense, more useful or less important, more or less of their own making, more justified or just indulgent (“middle class suffering”) than the suffering of others.

It is the judging I am referring to; there is clearly truth in that relative view of suffering, of course. Nyogen recently told the story about the Zen master who at a wedding when asked for a blessing said “grandfather dies, son dies, grandson dies.” The guests thought well, that’s bit morbid for a wedding, eh? But no, there is less suffering if they die in that order! Some pains are certainly more painful. If you can take horrible pain and make it less horrible, that is compassion, that is a good thing. When that is the point, when that is what is in front of you, then it is true. But lets not get distracted by that, it is too obvious and not quite the point here.

Indulgences are indulgences, authenticity is authenticity.

If you embrace suffering for any “good” reasons, including ideas, philosophies, art or love, deserved or not deserved, some pre-fabricated inflexible idea of truth, justice and injustice, you are either trying to justify the pain you caused, wallowing or worse, or you are simply unaware that you are the problem.

In fact, this brings up the whole judging and comparing thing.

What do you know about that accountant? How deep is your perception, how sensitive to other people are you (not just how sensitive to and deeply do you feel your own concerns, that doesn’t make you sensitive, it makes you self centered)?

How easy it is to come to conclusions based on our prejudices, fears and desires.

Do you need others to fail, or simply be diminished in some way, to feel good about yourself? Does thinking an accountant has less resources and less creativity, rather than being less needy and yes, perhaps less funny and skilled with words (but so what?) make you feel more in tune with your Universe?

And this is true even when you are elevating the other. Comparisons are poison. They may spur you on, but only in the worse way. Acting out of jealousy, with unrealistic expectations is a recipe for disaster. It is pure delusion. There will ALWAYS be somebody with… more. Or less. Whatever is that you THINK you want or need. Does that person’s life seem so charmed when seen from afar, is their romantic partner so much better looking than yours, do they get more and better sex, is their salary and house bigger than yours? Are their successes more successful than yours, their failures less dismal and better justified? Will you get trapped feeling bad about it, about yourself, and end up chasing what others have?

You too subtle for that? Not a “materialist”? OK, is their creativity more creative, their genius more genius, their skills more skillful, their tastes more refined and elegant, their ability to meditate more profound, their spirituality more spiritual? Is their joy more joyful, their sadness more elegant and moving? They more of a Bodhisattva than you? More of a Buddha?

Will you get trapped chasing that, some ideal in your head you will never attain because you made it up?

Does it really mask the pain, to compare, to judge, even for a second?

Or does it become an itch you scratch till it hurts and bleeds?

We’re all dancing, hair just right, make up on, colorful kimonos flying.

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Belief traps: comparisons, stories, phantoms and chimeras.

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Authenticity: simple, not easy.

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More Hippy Wisdom, Science and Upside Down Thinking

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On the commune, “The Farm,” I heard (and again I do not know if it originated there with Stephen Gaskin):

“Don’t limit the universe.”

That is something like when Einstein said ‘God doesn’t play dice” referring to randomness in quantum mechanics. Bohr responded by saying: “Don’t tell God what to do, Al.”

Or Shakespeare having Hamlet say: “there are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Our senses, including cognition, were evolved to limit the universe so we can deal with it as four-dimensional beings, not to understand the ultimate nature of reality.

It is an assumption of science, and many mystical traditions, that “as above so below,” though often applied very differently in science and mysticism or spirituality. In science, as we perceive ever deeper and deeper into the workings of things and uncover more complex facts about these things and their relationships using the tools of science to organize and extend the limits of our senses, our powers of observation, we believe we are getting closer to the Truth. As we look at and think deeply (and mathematically) about the smaller and the smallest, the subatomic world, and the the larger and the largest, the Cosmos, we see the same processes and so feel confident that science is hot on the trail of how it is.

And of course we are hot on that trail, until we hit the areas on the intellectual map in the middle of the ocean of our explorations that are labeled “Here There Be Sea Monsters.” These are the grand unifications we hope for, the realm underpinning quantum field theory, the play of energy writ large and small, where we start dreaming about multiverses and strings.

Then what?

What is in the spaces, the deep empty spaces between thoughts, between perceptions?

As I quoted Stephen Hawking in an earlier post: what breathes the fire in to the equations?

A recent book I read that Nyogen Roshi had suggested, an 800 page three volume compendium by a physicist, Thomas Campbell, called “My Big Toe.” My take on it sums up to:

Consciousness is the foundation, evolution is the process.

Tom suggests that information is the warp and woof of our perceptions, we have free will, and meditation is a tool to improve the quality of our being by decreasing random chaotic fluctuations and being more compassionate.

He also doesn’t like infinity much, and neither does Buddhism, which is why my GUT had “no beginning, no end” rather than “for eternity.”

Tom may disagree with my couple of sentences summing up his work, but it was 800 pages, so I may have missed something.

And it is not that far from the GUT I started my writing with:

You are the Universe unfolding

Mind evolving

No separation

No beginning, no end

As well as blogs I wrote about evolution, and Mind, Zen, and yes, breathing fire into the equations that create a Universe.

In Buddhism there is an idea that most unenlightened views are “not even wrong” (a statement I like by a physicist deriding a crazy theory, but here more a statement of fact than a put down), but rather are “upside down thinking.”

As a self-taught painter in high school I found turning a canvas upside down was quite useful in giving a new perspective to the work, highlighting asymmetries and abstractions (color, shapes) I may have missed by knowing what I thought the upright painting was SUPPOSED to look like. I later learned that is a pretty standard technique that I stumbled on. You can see the painting anew and learn a lot by doing that. So upside down perspectives aren’t even wrong, just not what you are after. They may even provide insights that set you on the right path!

And science is simply upside down, I suspect, when it limits consciousness to being an epiphenomenon of this incredibly marvelous (in the true sense of the term) brain.

It is not that science is wrong about brains. The complexity of even the smallest brains should astound. More on that in another blog, but as an example I like the teeny tiny brain of a wasp that is less than a millimeter (a twenty fourth of an inch) long (the whole wasp, not the brain!) that allows for complex behaviors like flying, finding the larvae of another insect in a tree, and then injecting it’s wasp eggs into the sac of that larva of the other insect so the wasp’s larva can eat it later.

It is really, as I wrote recently, just a question as to whether consciousness itself is primary or an epiphenomenon.

I know it may be impossible to prove that the former is true using the techniques of math and science. Although considering Consciousness primary, while perhaps implied when we find that turning the canvas of science upside down, answers some deep questions, doing so relies on subjective experience and that is not the rules of science as most commonly understood. We can’t get “outside” of Consciousness to dissect and measure it. We can measure brain function very well though.

Legitimate as many of us feel that meditation and insight and subjective experience are as away to pursue Truth, they are not necessarily the accepted definitions of “scientific method.” Do we need “scientific method? I would answer: Yes, if we don’t want to fall prey to superstition and we want to do any kind of complex engineering. It is a very powerful tool.

I just suggest that it is OK to turn the canvas upside down and then back, that we don’t, a priori, based on an interpretation of science, a metaphysical stance, limit the Universe.

 

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Hippy Wisdom

fractal-design-orange

I am not sure how much of this came directly from Stephen Gaskin who was the original driving force behind the commune my wife and I lived on in the early 70’s and who died last year and how much he was passing on, but these were a couple of things often heard there. Maybe I’ll share more in another post.

“Don’t hold somebody to a place.”

Give people room to grow and learn. This is good relationship and personal advice. In addition, holding anything to a place is not living in the now. If you think you know exactly what and where it is, you are not in the moment and you fall in to the trap the Diamond Sutra warns us about: believing in a permanent person soul or entity rather than the impermanence and foundational role of change which is one of the core understandings of Buddhism (and I would maintain science as well).

“One man [sic] one karma.”

Well this was some 50 years ago and using “man” as in mankind was still common (and avoiding it is still a linguistic challenge some times). Should be one entity or one being one karma. Nyogen quotes Maezumi Roshi as saying kids have their own karma. It’s the same idea. Sure you are an integral part of everyone else’s Universe, especially those close to you as family, friends, co-workers, sangha, but also extending out to fellow citizens, bio-geologic creatures, the earth, the sun and solar system, the galaxy, the galaxy cluster, dark matter, dark energy, the deep quantum energy foam, the brane, the essential information and energy organizing Mind, etc., with more distant relationships having less impact, but still, each has a momentum and so a path of it’s own, it’s own decisions (if sentient) to make. Just be compassionate and do your best, don’t try to own what you don’t, can’t and wont. It is selfish and self-serving. What you do with your four dimensional brain and perceptions is your karma, use it wisely, but I is limited. The relative (as in the Sandokai, the identity of the Relative and Absolute) is, when dealing in the rule set of the relative, well, relative. That’s the trick. That is the proving ground.

Now of course, one could consider One Being, One Karma, as no separation, that in the largest view our puny minds can handle, we could consider this Whole Thing One Thing and Karma is unfolding as a fractal blossom, the Universe Evolving; that kind of works as well.

fractal image

But the context I heard it in from Stephen and Nyogen (and by his comment, Maezumi) is don’t think it is all about your little brain and four dimensional perceived world, your agenda and what you think is best is always best, that the people around you, even those you love and cherish the most, are there as part of your show. Their show must go on as well.

 

 

Where the Rubber Meets the Road; Lessons From a Busy Month

 

I haven’t written on this website for about a month. I have been doing a lot of reading (non fiction mostly) and writing (trying fiction mostly) while keeping up my practices (medical/scientific and Zen). Very invigorating.

Three themes kept reappearing this month.

First, it is fun to have fun, and to share my enthusiasm, which I often have in abundance, but ego, praise and blame, and the need to “do” sneak in so easily. I set myself up for that!

Second, be careful about the stories you tell, they tend to come true in ways that may be unexpected or in ways that are not literal, but true nonetheless.

Third, when looking at how science describes the way reality functions, whether by studying biology and neuroscience, peeking into into the standard model of particle physics, quantum mechanics, string theory (metaphysics or physics? I am in the camp of those who think the former, but that is for another post), the cosmos as information or hologram, multiverses, multiple layered realities, computer metaphors, or whatever big picture cutting edge science and the various interpretations of science (metaphysics) can offer, it seems to come down to:

Is mind an epiphenomenon arising from evolved brain tissue, itself congealed energy, and that’s as far as it goes, or is Mind primary?

Does Mind arise from energy or is Mind the field in which energy and the organization of energy flows?

Does Mind need another field to maintain it, like a quantum field, or the vacuum with it’s teeming sea of virtual particles and energy without beginning or end, or is Mind a name for the ultimate field that, while still dualistic in a way, is an appropriate term to use because it reflects our experience, that is, is our mind, as we live it?

Is what we can measure and perceive primary or is consciousness primary?

Do we really describe Reality with the tools of the intellect, the mathematics we invent, the changes in energy we perceive with our senses, or do these tools of the mind just provide a great quantitative look at one layer that our monkey brains can handle, at the scale we evolved to live in, even if we push that out very far with very clever instruments and experiments, with the underlying energy and principles arising from Mind rather than the other way around?

Even that is of course a story, a concept, but I think when talking about science and practice, about how it is, that is where the rubber meets the road.

It isn’t whether I think I can prove Mind is primary. That’s exactly my point. It has been said that it is like a fish trying to prove water.

That’s why as busy as I get, and as interesting as I am to myself (I amuse myself greatly though it gets a bit much even for me sometimes), I keep up my practice.

I’m kind of curious.

Right Effort and Conditioning

I was convinced at an early age that I was lazy. I heard it often enough from my mother. And then I heard it from my teachers when I couldn’t be bothered with homework or studying. I bought it. I embraced it.

When my sixth grade teacher told me that despite my over the top standardized test scores he wouldn’t put me in the special program that would allow me to skip eighth grade because I didn’t ever do any work, I had to at least concede that I could see his point. I had long before established my what was then called “underachiever” status.

Cost me a !@#$ing extra year of school, but you know, I had to be me!

But in fact I always did stuff. Even as an underachieving smart-assed kid and teenager. I just did what interested me. While getting mostly B’s and C’s in high school (the only math A I got was in geometry when a substitute teacher challenged me by pointing out geometry was about THINKING! So I actually did the homework and looked forward to the tests!) I took the subway after school to NYU to sit in on a university art history course. I would read Shakespeare and go see Shakespeare in the park in Central Park (it was free!). I haunted the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was learning ancient Egyptian. I painted and drew.

But to this day I tend to be on the look out. Am I slacking? Were they right? If I stop, if I relax my guard, will I revert to that “lazy kid,” like a once productive cultivated field being reclaimed by weeds?

For that matter, would that be all bad?

Do I honestly think it would all come apart? That the Buddhist “right effort” requires some concept of achieving?

Well, Nyogen Roshi quotes Maezumi Roshi as saying the effort of no effort is the hardest effort you will ever make.

Amen.

I bring all of this up because I was going to write about very positive experiences I have been having peeling back some of the layers of my medical conditioning. How I am, even now, this late in my game, becoming a bit of a better doctor, a little bit better healer, teacher of doctors and mentor. And I give credit to my practice. And to right effort. I will get into that in another post, but for now I want to note that rather than staying positive, the way I framed it in my mind, the way I was going to introduce it here, was that I discovered that I was intellectually lazy.

Really?

I mean, REALLY?

Conditioning. It seeps in very deep.

Mental friggin’ fracking.

Psychic pollution.

Nyogen Roshi says Buddhism is one loud cry of affirmation. Perhaps the first affirmation is to stop calling yourself names.